The Real Deal Part Two: Heavyweight

Updated: Aug 6, 2019

Evander Holyfield

Chasing Tyson

After beating Carlos De Leon in April 1988 to become undisputed cruiserweight champion, Evander Holyfield put on twelve pounds and stepped up to the heavyweight division. His first opponent was James 'Quick' Tllis. The bout took place on 16th July 1988 in Las Vegas. Tillis' first loss came in a WBA heavyweight title challenge to Mike Weaver, losing a fifteen round unanimous decision in October 1981.

He suffered his second loss to future WBC champion Pinklon Thomas, losing in the eighth round in August 1982. He was stopped in the same round three months later by Greg Page in a USBA heavyweight title match. Four wins got him a shot at the vacant NABF championship against Tim Witherspoon. The bout took place on 23 September 1983. Witherspoon wasted no time in picking up the vacant belt, needing only two-minutes and 16 seconds of the very first round. He won another four fights, but dropped a ten round unanimous decision to Carl Williams.

Tillis beat Bashir Wadud, but went on a four fight defeat spree, all by ten round unanimous decisions against Marvis Frazier, Gerry Coetzee, Tyrell Biggs and Mike Tyson. Though Tyson floored him in the fourth round, Tillis got up and became the first man to take him the distance in twenty contests.

Nailing Tillis with a right

He scored wins over Mark Young and Art Terry, but travelled to Sydney and lost a ten round decision to the come-backing Joe Bugner. Winning two and drawing one he lost again to Mike Williams in the eighth round. A fifth round stoppage win over debutant Ronnie Douglas got him a fight in London against Frank Bruno in March 1987. Bruno was last in the ring eight months previously where he lost to Tim Witherspoon in the eleventh round for the WBA belt. Tillis was a bloody mess and stopped in the fifth round. He was back on the road again, losing his next bout by a tenth and final round TKO in South Africa to Johnny Du Plooy.

Tillis did manage to get two wins under his belt before the Holyfield contest, brining his record to 38-13-1 (29 KO's). Holyfield used his speed and jab to take the opening round. Even though The Real Deal was at his heaviest ever at 202 lbs, he still looked small against Tillis' eight pound weight advantage.

Holyfield's speed in round two was a problem for James 'Quick' Tillis, who got his nickname from knocking out his first twelve opponents quickly. The heavyweight debutant unleashed a barrage of punches towards the end of the round, that had his opponent covering up. Holyfield nailed him with hard rights and as the fight got into Holyfield's ring corner there was some afters when the bell rang, with Richard Steele having to separate both boxer's, restraining Holyfield, as Lou Duva held Tillis, which provoked a reaction from Tillis' trainer Beau Williford. Steele then had to intervene between the two trainers, as the two fighters hugged each other as a mark of respect.

Tillis started the third round aggressively, but Holyfield's speed and ring generalship took control as he finished the stanza landing his big rights again, which had Tillis holding and covering up. The fourth round went the same as the previous three, Tillis wasn't offering much in an attacking capacity, as Holyfield's hand speed and reflexes piled up the points advantage.

Again in the fifth Tillis was in survival mode, with Holyfield picking up the pace and getting through with some fast, meaty shots. Towards the end of the round Tillis was on the verge of getting dropped, but managed to hear the bell. He sat in his corner shaking his head, with the referee and then the ringside doctor joining him, with Tillis confirming he had had enough.

Holyfield improved to 19-0, (14 knockouts) scoring his seventh kayo in a row. "It was not my best performance, but I got the job done," Holyfield said after the match. "Weight wasn't a big issue. I wanted to go in confident and bring some strength."

"He is a great fighter," Tillis commented. "Evander is faster than Tyson, he has very good punching power."

Tillis continued to box into the ninety's and the new century. He had his last contest, losing by a ninth round TKO to Rob Calloway on 13th April 2001 and retired with a 42-22-1-1 (31 KO's) resume.

Evander Holyfield next stepped into the ring on 09th December 1988, gaining another eight pounds as he took on former WBC heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas, who was born on 10th February 1958 in Pontiac, Michigan. At the age of fourteen he had a $150 a day cocaine habit.

Holyfield out jabbing Thomas

He started boxing as a nineteen year old and quit drugs all together. He had only three amateur contests and turned pro against Ken Arlt on 29th August 1978, winning a six round split decision. He remained unbeaten and never heard the final bell again until his fourteenth contest, where he outpointed Jerry Williams over ten rounds in August 1980. Angelo Dundee, his trainer, said that Thomas' jab was "as close to a Sonny Liston jab as I've ever seen."

Thomas kept chalking up the victories and in a rematch with Williams nearly two years later, stopped his man in round two. He inflicted only the second loss of James Tillis' career, stopping 'The Fighting Cowboy' in the eighth. His next bout came against the number one WBA challenger, Gerrie Coetzee. They boxed a ten round draw, Thomas' first blemish on 22nd January 1983.

Four more victories got him a shot at the WBC champion Tim Witherspoon, who won the vacant title by outpointing Greg Page in March 1984. The bout was the champion's first defence, with the challenger winning a majority twelve round decision at the end of August 1988.

Thomas didn't make his first defence until June 1985 where he beat former WBA champion Mike Weaver with an eighth round TKO. He then lost his title and unbeaten record in a close unanimous decision, 115-114 and two cards of 115-113 to Trevor Berbick.

Thomas bounced back with a victory in October of the same year, kayoing Narcisco Maldonado in the fifth round. He won two more contests before challenging Mike Tyson for the WBA and WBC belts on 30th May 1987. Thomas defused Tyson's blistering first round blitz by adopting jab and hold tactics. This worked well until the sixth round as the champion opened up with a barrage of punches that ended his challenge. Thomas dropped to 29-2-1 (24 KO's).

Thomas was out of the ring for over a year before he took on the former undisputed cruiserweight king. Holyfield started fast, landing sharp left hooks to Thomas' head and body. The ex WBC champion's legs stiffened and it looked like an early night for 'The Real Deal'.

But the thirty-year old Thomas stood his ground. He didn't connect with many punches, which reflected Holyfield's dominance with the scorecards, winning no rounds on two of the three scoring officials. Holyfield inflicted a cut beneath his opponent's right eye. He also slowed the pace in the next two rounds, but reignited his fire when he zeroed in on the injury. At the end of the seventh round Angelo Dundee had seen enough and pulled his fighter out of the contest.

It was a workmanlike type of performance for Holyfield, but after his two contests in the top weight division he seems to be gaining his doubters, especially over the power in his punches to bowl over the bigger opponents. "I know I have to fight better than I fought tonight," admitted Holyfield afterwards. "Because if that's my best I don't see myself being heavyweight champion of the world." Holyfield also announced that he had relinquished his undisputed cruiserweight crown.

"Holyfield is real strong and deserves all the recognition he can get," Thomas stated.

"Pink" carried on boxing and won his next contest against Curtis Isaac. He then lost his next three against Mike Hunter, Riddick Bowe and a one round retirement against Tommy Morrison. He stayed unbeaten throughout 1992, cramming in thirteen wins in a six month period. He lost his last contest for the vacant and lightly regarded WBF title to Lawrence Carter on 29th January 1993, via a seventh round TKO. Pinklon Thomas retired with a record of 43-7-1 (34 KO's).

Holyfield then took on another former champion Michael Dokes for his WBC Continental Americas title on 11th March 1989. Dokes had an amateur record of 147-7 and turned professional in October 1976, retiring Al Byrd at the end of the second round. He stayed unbeaten in seventeen bouts and only picked up his first blemish with a draw with Ossie Ocasio in April 1980. Two months later Dokes stopped Ocasio in the first round, knocking his foe down three times to get back to winning ways.

Six more victories put him in line to challenge NABF heavyweight champion Lyn Ball. Dokes, who was ranked the number two challenger by the WBC took only one round to lift the national title. He defended the belt once, knocking out Tommy Franco Thomas in the fifth round. With a record of 25-0-1 (14 KO's) he then challenged WBA champion Mike Weaver on 10th December 1982.

Champion Weaver was a notoriously slow starter and Dokes took advantage of that as he went after the champion from the bell. A left hook staggered the Weaver in the first 20 seconds, dropping him with a follow up left. The champion took the mandatory count and seemed unhurt. He covered up on the ropes as the challenger went for the finish. With one-minute 03 seconds of the contest elapsed referee Joey Curtia stopped the contest.

The crowd let their displeasure be known as a brawl broke out in the ring between the two camps. Dokes wanted the belt that Weaver had worn to the ring, but Weaver's brother took a swipe at the new champion causing the carnage. Due to the chaos in the arena, ring announcer Chuck Giampa decided not to announce the TKO victory and left the ring.

The WBA ordered an immediate rematch and Dokes kept the title with a fifteen round draw. As their first encounter ended in a chorus of boos, so did the rematch, as it looked like Weaver had done enough to regain the crown.

Dokes' personal life didn't match his ring successes as he battled drug addictions for many years and was in and out of drug rehabilitation programs. On losing his WBA strap to Gerrie Coetzee in his second defence on 23rd September 1983, he admitted that he trained for the contest on Jack Daniels and cocaine. The South African took the title by a tenth round knockout.

Dokes returned to the ring in August 1984 and won eleven bouts in a row, picking up the vacant WBC Americas Continental title by stopping James Pritchard in the seventh round. He defended the title successfully against Rocky Sekorski, by unanimous decision. Against Holyfield he was making his second defence.

Holyfield scaled in at a ready 208 lbs and the champion weighed 225 lbs. Dokes started quickly, backing the challenger up. The smaller Holyfield then stood his ground and landed with some good hooks to head and body. The champion, who had fast hands for a heavyweight wasn't used to facing opponents with Holyfield's speed. An accidental low blow towards the end of the round gave Dokes some respite; but Holyfield finished stronger as the bell rang.

The challenger wasn't afraid to trade punches, with Dokes stepping back from the exchanges taking in a deep breath. Another round going to 'The Real Deal". The champion rallied in the third, landing some good, fast combinations. Holyfield stood his ground, but was just shaded on Dokes' work-rate. Holyfield was ordered to go for the body during the minute rest.